Catch-up with the latest news and insights on education in the UK.


Major overhaul of higher technical education announced
Jul 2020

New package of measures for higher technical education will build on the work to transform technical and vocational education in Britain

Measures to boost the quality and take-up of higher technical education to help plug skill gaps, level up opportunities and support the UK’s economic recovery have been announced by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today (14 July).

A major review last year revealed that higher technical education – technical qualifications like Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas that sit between A Level and degrees – can unlock the skills employers need and lead to highly skilled, well paid jobs. Despite this, not enough people are studying them which is leading to skills shortages in sectors like construction, manufacturing and digital.

The package of measures announced today marks the next step in establishing a system of higher technical education where students and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed. The package includes:

  • Introducing newly approved higher technical qualifications from September 2022 supported by a government-backed brand and quality mark – qualifications will only be approved where they provide the skills employers need, providing much needed clarity for students and employers.

  • Working with Ofsted and the Office for Students to make sure the quality of courses is consistently high across HE and FE institutions – building on our Institutes of Technology so students and employers can be confident courses will be high quality.

  • Launching a new public awareness campaign – working in partnership with employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of opportunities that studying a higher technical qualification can open up and making sure students get the right information, advice and guidance to make informed choices.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

For too long we have been training people for the jobs of yesterday instead of the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Employers are struggling to find the computer programmers, engineers, electricians and technicians they need, and students of all ages are missing out on the high skill, high wage jobs that higher technical education can lead to.

The measures I have announced today will boost the quality and take-up of these qualifications to help plug skill gaps, level up opportunities and support our economic recovery.

Matthew Percival, CBI People and Skills Director, said:

Higher technical qualifications help people develop the skills that build careers. It’s fantastic to see this commitment from Government to boost their uptake.

Putting employers in the driving seat will give them confidence that courses on offer meet their needs.

With four-fifths of employers expecting to increase higher skilled roles in the coming years, offering clear progression routes through higher technical qualifications will be essential to creating a sustainable and inclusive future economy.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said:

At the present time there is a serious mismatch between the skills and knowledge delivered by our education system and the needs of our economy and society (34% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs, and industry faces a persistent shortage of technical skills). This announcement of a major reform of higher technical education, together with the introduction of T Levels, should go a long way to ending this mismatch and should be strongly supported by all political parties and industry.

Today’s announcement follows the Education Secretary’s FE speech where Gavin Williamson pledged to publish a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, which will strive toward high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. It also follows the significant investment announced by the Chancellor to support young people’s employment prospects – which includes a new ‘kickstart’ scheme to create work placements for young people on Universal Credit, £111 million investment to triple the number of traineeships available across England, supporting employers to create more apprenticeships opportunities, new investment to support an additional quarter of a million people with careers advice, and more.

These reforms build on work already underway to transform technical and vocational education in this country, including the introduction of new T Levels from September, working with employers to create more high–quality apprenticeship opportunities and establishing a network of Institutes of Technology, backed by up to £290 million. Higher technical qualifications will provide a natural progression route for young people taking new T Levels from 2020 or A Levels, and adults looking to upskill or retrain, enabling them to take the next step up and gain higher technical skills in key subjects like STEM.

Higher technical courses are offered at universities and FE colleges– such as Nottingham Trent University and New College Durham– and National Colleges, like the National College for Digital Skills, are well placed to expand in this area. The Government’s network of Institutes of Technology – unique collaborations between universities, FE colleges, and leading employers – also specialise in delivering high-quality higher technical education and training in STEM subjects, such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering that will provide employers with the skilled workforce they need.

The measure announced today will complement the Government’s review of post-18 education to ensure the system is joined up, accessible and encourages the development of the skills the country needs.

UK Report Calls For 4-Year Post-Study Visas To Attract More Indian Students
Jul 2020

Under the current rules, the UK is set to open up a new "Graduate" visa route, commonly referred to as a post-study visa, for the 2020-21 intake to UK universities.

London: A new report released in London on Monday has called on the UK government to double its post-study visa offer to four years, a move it predicts could lead to a near doubling of Indian students choosing UK universities by 2024.

"Universities Open to the World: How to put the bounce back in Global Britain", prepared by former UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson for the Policy Institute at King's College London and the Harvard Kennedy School, warns that an anticipated 50-75 per cent drop in international students as a result of the coronavirus pandemic would expose "real vulnerabilities" in the country's higher education sector.

An expansion of the ability to work at the end of a degree course and to include Indians in the low-risk student visa category of countries, akin to China, would prove particularly attractive to Indian students - a group which has registered a strong hike in numbers choosing UK universities in recent months.

"For students in India, this offer would be a total game changer. It would be sensational for the ability of our universities to go and market British higher education in India," said Jo Johnson, the younger brother of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"The increase that I am proposing to the post-study work visa will be of particular appeal to students from India, who are very sensitive to whether or not they have an ability to stay on in the country after they graduate to put to use the skills they have acquired in higher education and earn a bit of money to help them pay the pretty considerable fees that our universities charge them," he said, adding that the UK prime minister has always been a "strong supporter" of international students and is therefore likely to take the report's proposals into consideration.

The former member of parliament from the Conservative Party, who resigned from politics last year, has been a long-term supporter of competitive post-study visa offers to keep the UK in line with other higher education destinations such as Australia and Canada.

Post-Study Work Visa Guidelines Updated For International Students In UK
Jul 2020

The UK government has issued updated guidance to confirm that international students, including Indians, will remain eligible for post-study work rights at the end of their degree course even if they have to begin the 2020-21 academic year online from abroad given the coronavirus lockdown.

The UK government has issued updated guidance to confirm that international students, including Indians, will remain eligible for post-study work rights at the end of their degree course even if they have to begin the 2020-21 academic year online from abroad given the coronavirus lockdown.

The UK Home Office said the Graduate Visa route, commonly referred to as a post-study work visa and designed for overseas students to be able to work or look for work for two years after completing their course, will apply to the 2020-21 intake as long as they are physically present in the UK by April 2021 to complete the final semester.

"Students will normally be expected to undertake their studies in the UK to be eligible for the Graduate route. However, if students are required to either continue their current studies or commence a new course by distance or blended learning due to COVID-19, they will still be eligible to switch into the Graduate route on a concessionary basis if they spent some time studying outside the UK," notes the Home Office guidance issued this week.

"Students will benefit from this concession if they enter the UK before 6 April 2021 and complete the final semester of their studies in the UK," it says.

A number of UK universities have indicated plans for a so-called blended teaching approach, incorporating online as well as some physical lessons, as the coronavirus lockdown and social distancing rules remain in place around the world.

University groups have been lobbying the UK government for steps to address the impact of the pandemic on the country's higher education sector, which had registered an impressive 136 per cent jump in Indian student visa numbers in the year ending March 2020.

"Indian students can now have confidence that even if they are unable to travel to the UK in the autumn to start their studies due to COVID-19, they will still be eligible to apply for the graduate immigration route if they are in the UK by April 2021," said Vivienne Stern, Director of the Universities UK International (UUKi), an organisation that represents 143 UK universities.

"The Graduate route allows students to remain in the UK for two years after graduation to work or look for work, and this concession means Indian students starting a UK course this autumn will be eligible to apply even if they need to start their UK course online due to COVID-19. We welcome this concession, as one of the areas of flexibility we asked of the government in our 'Kickstarting the Recovery' paper," she said.

The paper had highlighted that international students bring over 6.9 billion pounds income to UK universities in tuition fees and contribute over 26 billion pounds to the wider UK economy.

As an export sector of growing importance to the UK, higher education must be bolstered with measures such as concessions to ensure that online study amid the lockdown does not disqualify students from the Graduate Visa route, which is set for its launch for the 2020-21 cohort of university intakes.

A recent study by former UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson called for the two-year post-study offer to be doubled to four, a move he believes would prove particularly attractive to Indian students. UUKi, which has campaigned for the Graduate Visa for years, agreed that such a bold policy move would help the UK compete with other higher education destinations.

"We agree that extending the period to four years would make us really competitive with destinations like Australia, which offers between three and four years. A bold policy move like this would help the UK stand out to Indian students in an increasingly competitive field. Meanwhile prospective Indian students can be assured that the top priority for our universities is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in the new academic year," added UUKi's Stern.

This year, students have a better chance of getting into a top university
Jul 2020


You may have read some recent articles encouraging school leavers to defer their place at university because of the coronavirus pandemic. The arguments for this approach typically focus on two points: that any form of digital education isn’t real learning and if there is still social distancing in place then you won’t have a real university experience. As a university leader, I would like to debunk both.

Most UK universities planning in-person teaching from autumn, poll finds

Since universities ceased face-to-face teaching in March, we have moved all of our teaching online. This was easier for some courses than others, but both staff and students have used creativity, digital skills and critical problem-solving to make it a success. The result has been very positive. We have examples of students digitally delivering the most practical of projects and many students report a high quality of teaching and connection with each other. In the next academic year we will aim to provide as much face-to-face teaching as possible and I expect that we will be able to comfortably and safely deliver lots of seminars and group learning together

The easing of the UK’s lockdown is changing every day and we are responding positively. However, it seems unlikely that large theatre-style lectures will be feasible for the autumn term, so most universities will take a “blended” approach – a mix of both face-to face and digital teaching. My message to school leavers is that this is nothing to fear. The UK has many of the best universities in the world and we have already adapted to deliver excellent, high-quality teaching online.

Then we come onto social life. We have heard a real concern that students won’t have the rites of passage that come with the freshers’ experience – the opportunity to meet others, join societies, party and discover their new surroundings. I do understand this concern but, again, we are very skilled in delivering an excellent student experience and we won’t let the current challenges prevent that.

Universities and our students’ unions are working tirelessly to plan for every eventuality September may bring. We will offer the best introductory experience possible within the government guidelines at the time. There may not be packed club nights – not at first – but there will be plenty of opportunities to make new friends, join activities and meet your teachers and researchers in departments. In Sheffield, our students union is immensely skilled at providing activities for students and have already been planning socially distanced events. Meanwhile, student societies are already hosting activities online, ranging from meditation classes and baking tutorials to dance groups and music festivals.

Now for some good news: this year may be one of the best opportunities to choose a university in recent memory. The demographic dip means that there are fewer 18-year-olds in the UK this year. Competition for the best universities could hugely work in applicants’ favour – there may be choice now that won’t be available next year. My advice to school leavers is to aim high. Even if you firm up an existing offer or if you haven’t yet applied for a place, via clearing and adjustment you have an opportunity to apply for competitive courses at some of the world’s best universities. Next year, when the number of school leavers rises again, you may find competition much tighter, so applicants wanting to defer should thin carefully.should thin carefully.We also need to be honest with students about what a year out might actually look like in 2020/21. Every year, a number of students defer to spend time gaining valuable work experience or travelling and volunteering abroad. Nothing is certain, but it looks like these opportunities may not be readily available for UK school leavers this year. It may be better for school leavers to begin their studies now, increase their employability, and to integrate study abroad terms, years or projects into their university experience when this is possible.

I recognise that this may feel like a particularly daunting time for young people in the UK and beyond. Dealing with a global pandemic and all the uncertainties that come with it was never part of the plan. But universities will weather this storm well – and we are here to make sure that you do too.

After new US visa rules & ‘deportation’ threat, some relief: But uncertainty looms for desi students
Jul 2020

The latest ICE directive has thrown a huge spanner in the works for the US' flourishing international student cohort, a substantial chunk of which is made up of Indians.

In a move that is sure to roil the United States' flourishing foreign student population, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a directive on Tuesday barring international students from continuing their higher education in the country unless they meet specific quotas of in-person classes. 

Following discussions with India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla today though, the United States has, since, appeared to soften its stance, in what will be viewed as some consolation for the lakhs of international students currently residing in the US. According to the latest reports, those individuals on F-1 and M-1 visas have been advised to report to their respective embassies and departments, and await further updates from the US administration. It is, as yet, unclear what a 'partial rollback' of the ICE directive may look like.

No visas for Indian students?

Under the original ICE directive, students participating in university programmes that rely entirely on online courses risk deportation if they do not leave the country, or transfer to schools with “in-person instruction.” The order directly relates to those students on F-1 and M-1 visas. F-1 visa holders are those pursuing undergraduate, post-graduate or doctoral studies at tertiary education institutions, while M-1 holders are those engaged in vocational courses.

Prior to the order, the Chronicle of Higher Education estimated that around 9 per cent of US-based universities had planned to take their courses entirely online, yet the latest directive is likely to significantly impact this in the months ahead. 

Harvard Business School, for instance, which had previously informed students that its MBA program would go online, has already moved swiftly to adopt a hybrid format that would, presumably, offer international students the opportunity to remain in the country. Colombia University has also, reportedly, reached out to its international student cohort, informing them that it was looking into ways to navigate the order. 

While the rationale behind the ICE order is, as yet, unknown, it certainly throws a mighty spanner in the works for international students who may now have to contend with issues relating to varying time-zones, as well as the prospect of international travel during a pandemic. 

Although countries around the world have slowly begun to emerge from protracted lockdowns, international travel is still prohibited, with the exception of a handful of nations that may be part of exclusive travel bubbles. There is no clarity over whether the US is planning to work with other countries to organise special flights for its international student cohort. Moreover, great uncertainty also looms over the eligibility of foreign students' visas, if their university programmes continue to remain exclusively online post the upcoming Fall semester.

Universities rise to Covid-19 challenges
Jul 2020

Through leading research into developing a vaccine for Covid-19, providing thousands of medical and nursing student volunteers, and supplying specialist equipment and facilities worth millions of pounds to support the NHS, UK universities are playing a leading role in the fight against coronavirus.

Since the emergence of Covid-19, the lives of billions of people around the world have been affected to a level not seen in peacetime. The virus has impacted all parts of society, including universities and their staff and students.

During the pandemic, UK universities, alongside prioritising the support and welfare of their students, have risen to the challenges posed by this outbreak and are committing their resources to fighting back; working alongside government, health services and their local communities.

As of April 3, almost 5,500 Year 3 student nurses from 35 UK universities have opted to join NHS frontline staff. On World Health Day, Tuesday 7 April, university staff and students will be taking to social media to show their appreciation to the researchers and the volunteers - staff and students - doing so much in support of the national effort.

Examples published as part of the #WeAreTogether campaign by Universities UK include: The University of Cambridge is leading a £20 million UK government project, supported by a group of universities, to help understand and control Covid-19; scientists at King's College London are developing a prototype for a ventilator that will be quickly available; final-year medical students at universities have been allowed to graduate early to support the frontline effort, offering volunteer services to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers; and researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University and the University of Surrey have developed a device to detect Covid-19 in 30 minutes using a smartphone application.

Additionally, tens of universities have contributed protective equipment to hospitals across the UK, while several institutions continue to produce hundreds of litres of hand sanitiser every day, offer laboratories for testing purposes and accommodation to NHS frontline workers. Medical students have also set up initiatives to support NHS staff, offering babysitting, pet care, picking up medicine and grocery shipping services, and are volunteering at the NHS Nightingale Hospital.

Universities are also offering psychological support to staff and students and exploring the societal impact of the virus with the aim to make coping with the outbreak easier for everyone.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities have responded in the face of this unprecedented challenge with great determination and invention. Coordinating projects aimed at discovering a vaccine or improving testing, providing specialist equipment and university space, or building understanding of how the virus spreads are just some examples of universities contribution to local communities and national efforts."

"The expertise and skills of university staff and students are central to the fight against Covid-19. The spirit and tenacity shown by university staff and students is inspiring and will continue to be vital as we look to come through these testing times and move forward as a sector and a nation."

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, said: "As Universities Minister I am so proud of the response I have seen from our higher education providers, and the incredibly creative and pragmatic ideas they have developed in such a short space of time. 

"This sector is at the frontline in the battle we are facing – from developing ground-breaking research and supplying equipment, to releasing thousands of volunteers to support our NHS.

"I know universities are also facing pressures at this uncertain time and I am deeply thankful to them for stepping up in this magnificent way to the response."

Professor Wendy Reid, Acting Chief Executive of Health Education England, said: "We are extremely proud of the student doctors and nurses up and down the country who are supporting the fight against Covid-19.

"Thousands of student nurses have already opted to step up into full-time roles and we have hundreds of student doctors applying to graduate early following agreement from medical schools in order to support the frontline effort.

"This is the most challenging time in the history of our health service and it is fantastic that so many students are helping to meet the needs of patients."

Commenting on the government's research and innovation roadmap
Jul 2020

"This roadmap presents a compelling vision for the future of research and innovation and the commitment to increase public expenditure represents a significant investment in the UK's future. We welcome recognition of the role that university-based research and innovation activities will play in driving the UK's social and economic recovery post Covid-19 and the particular focus on tackling climate change, developing new medicines, attracting the best scientists and researchers from around the world and addressing longstanding challenges around the sustainability of research activity.

"The news that the new Graduate Route will be extended for PhD students to allow them to remain in the UK for three years after study is a bold policy move which will increase the UK's competitive edge in the global competition for talented research students. The announcement of the Graduate Route is already having a huge impact on the UK's attractiveness as a destination. It will give a competitive offer to some of the brightest minds from across the world who bring huge benefits to university campuses and local communities and can help to build the economy. The commitment to excellent customer service across the immigration system, so that it is simple, easy and quick recognises the benefits of attracting international talent and students to the UK, is a positive and welcome move.

"UUK is committed to working with BEIS, UKRI and other stakeholders to realise the ambitions and address the shared challenges outlined in this roadmap."

Supporting graduates: The Class of 2020
Jun 2020

Paid internships should be offered to the graduate class of 2020 to support their employment prospects and to help businesses get back on their feet following the Covid-19 lockdown.

Students who are graduating this summer, as well as recent graduates, are entering a new and largely unknown job market, following the widespread disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies are only now able to contemplate opening their doors again, following the early closure of businesses and other venues when the UK government imposed lockdown on March 23.

Universities across the UK have been working hard to support the Class of 2020, with a variety of careers services moved online – including careers cafes, recruitment fairs, work placements and dedicated support for disadvantaged graduates. However, Universities UK (UUK) believes support must be given to new and recent graduates who are about to enter a recovering job market that has fewer opportunities and increased competition. Graduates will have a central role to play in the social and economic recovery of the country and that potential must be given to opportunity to succeed.

A one-year UK-wide scheme of recovery internships, working with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in England and the equivalent groups in the devolved nations and targeted at businesses most in need, could help support up to 100,000 graduates to work with local companies. Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.

UUK, working with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), has established an Advisory Board with representatives from higher education, business and careers services to help understand what more can be done to support graduates.

But government support is necessary if graduates are to be given the best chance of success in a post Covid-19 work economy. In a new report, UUK is recommending that government provides the following to best support their prospects;

  1. Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.

  2. Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.

  3. An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master's Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.

  4. Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: "Every student graduating this year is part of a remarkable class that has overcome the unexpected and extraordinary challenges of the pandemic.

"The skills these graduates have acquired are lifelong and highly valuable to employers. Students, who have worked hard for years to get a degree or qualification they are proud of, should not have to pay the price for a situation that is outside their control. In these unique and unforeseen circumstances, targeted support is needed to enable this year's graduating class to realise their potential and prosper fully.

"Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year's graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery."

Mark Bretton, Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Network, said: "LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.

"We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times."

Speaking for NUS, Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: "NUS's Student Safety Net campaign has been calling for government action to support those leaving education and entering a deep economic and social crisis this year. The effects of this current crisis will not be felt evenly, with graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to experience long-term economic detriment.

"We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates' and the UK's future."

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), said: "The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students' needs.

"A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy."

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: "Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment."

UUK response to latest UCAS data on applicant offers and student deferrals
Jun 2020

UUK has responded to the latest UCAS (18 June) data which details the number of applicants with a firm offer to start university this autumn and the latest on student deferrals.

Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis, said: "It is very positive to see that the number of students planning to start university this autumn is on the rise, especially those from the most disadvantaged areas, and that the number choosing to defer has fallen from this time last year.

"University remains an excellent choice for students. Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, students can expect a high-quality experience this autumn with most universities planning to deliver teaching, student support and social activities in-person."

Most universities will teach in-person this autumn
Jun 2020

The vast majority of UK universities are preparing to provide in-person teaching this autumn, a new survey from Universities UK has revealed. 

97% of universities surveyed* confirmed that they will provide in-person teaching at the start of term this year, with 78 universities (87%), also stating that they will offer in-person social opportunities to students, including outside events and sporting activities, all in line with government and public health guidance. 

Across the UK, the survey found that; 

  • 78 (87%) universities are planning to provide in-person sporting, fitness and wellbeing activities for students in autumn 2020 

  • The full range of student support will be on offer at UK universities – including mental health support; careers advice; study skills. 87 universities (95%) will deliver this using a mixture of online and in-person services and 5  universities (5%) are planning to deliver these services online 

  • Universities across the UK are consulting with staff and students as they develop their plans 

  • 83 (90%) universities have communicated their current plans to prospective and current students; others will be doing so imminently

  • 75 (82%) universities are working with bars and cafes in the local community as they develop their plans 

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities across the UK are well advanced in their planning to welcome students this autumn and ensure they can benefit from a high-quality, full and exciting university experience. 

Clock is ticking for UK to make clear that visa system changes will support international students
Jun 2020

The UK government must make clear to international students in the next few weeks that they can still have confidence in studying at UK universities, otherwise the UK risks losing them to overseas competitors.

Universities in the UK are starting to make announcements about what the return to university will look like in autumn 2020 and how they will be delivering high-quality teaching, student support services and social opportunities. Many institutions have announced a blended approach, combining face-to-face learning for small seminars and tutorials with online provision for lectures. Earlier this week, Universities UK set out high-level principles setting out how universities can plan to emerge from lockdown, delivering face-to-face teaching where possible, while ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, visitors and the wider community.

Undecided applicants from overseas are currently in the final stages of deciding where to study in the autumn, with reports showing many are indecisive about their study plans.

Now Universities UK is calling on government to take action to ensure the visa system allows for flexible and blended approaches to teaching this autumn, which will be necessary in order to maintain social distancing and safety on campuses.

As a result, UUK is asking government to;

  • Reassure applicants that online study will not disqualify students from the new Graduate Route – which gives students post-study working opportunities in the UK – to be introduced in 2021
  • Ensure students can start courses online with confidence by extending the visa application window from three months to six months
  • Extend rules allowing Tier 4 students to study partially online, to allow for the blended approach being planned by universities

Today, Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, has been named by the Department for International Trade as the new International Education Champion. Professor Sir Steve Smith will play a key role in leading the UK sector's efforts to offer the world's best student experience, and to communicate it internationally. This includes tackling barriers to education exports, and the need to offer an open and welcoming message to overseas students.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, London, said: "We have a short window to convince undecided applicants that they can plan with confidence to study in the UK this autumn. This needs action by government as well as universities.

"It is excellent news that the UK Government has confirmed the Graduate Route will be in place by summer 2021, and that visa application centres are starting to reopen. Universities are now sharing plans setting out how they will welcome students this autumn, combining face-to-face teaching where possible with online delivery to ensure students are safe. Yet changes to the visa system to keep pace with the changes to teaching are now urgent. This is important for students who might be reserving final judgments about whether to come to the UK or not in the autumn.

"The appointment of Professor Sir Steve Smith as International Education Champion is fantastic news for the sector and we believe he can play a key role in emphasising to government the need for action. His understanding of and relationships with overseas markets will be critically important in helping to develop these strong international relationships, which are more important now than ever.

"International students contribute so much to the UK campuses as well as the economy. Prospective students can be assured that the top priority for our universities is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in the new academic year. Now assurances must be given that new ways of learning will not penalise them now or in the future."

Principles for emerging from lockdown
Jun 2020

A set of high-level principles and supporting information for universities to consider as they emerge from lockdown has been published today by Universities UK. 

The principles provide a framework for individual universities both in the coming weeks and as they develop their plans for the new academic year. While individual universities will tailor their approaches depending on their settings and situations, the publication highlights key considerations to support universities and provide transparency to students on the work underway to give them the full university experience next year. 

An open statement on behalf of the universities is set out below from the President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, and Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, who is chairing a specially convened sounding board to coordinate the sector's recovery work.  

Open statement: 

The UK's universities are united in the view that students should have the opportunity to benefit from a world-class higher education experience that enables them to progress towards their career and life goals. A university education is more relevant and valuable than ever in these uncertain times. UK universities will be open and ready to teach and support students at the start of the new academic year.  

New and returning students can be confident their universities will be providing high-quality, accessible and engaging teaching and learning this autumn; and can look forward to a positive student experience and wide-ranging support. Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will support. This will include new ways of providing practical sessions in socially distanced forms, innovative approaches to extra-curricular activities such as welcome week programmes, and a continuation of important student services such as mental health and wellbeing support and careers advice. 

These approaches will be supplemented with carefully planned alternatives for students where parts of the university experience may be difficult to deliver in-person – such as large lectures.  

Across the sector, the top priority is to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of students, our staff and the wider community. Universities are harnessing the significant expertise which exists within our sector, and working closely with the UK, devolved and local governments and public health bodies on our approach. While the specifics will rightly vary based on factors such as the location, size and type of institution, universities' approaches will be informed by a common set of published principles. These include making appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure and regularly reviewing and adapting hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces in accordance with public health advice; working with civic and local partners wherever appropriate; and reviewing teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that the required flexibility is in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students. 

We understand that current and prospective students – along with their parents, carers and teachers – want to know much more about what their university experience will look like. Universities are sharing as much as they can now and are working hard to provide more details as soon as they can. The way the world will look by the autumn is not completely clear to any of us yet, but universities are focused on their plans and will regularly update current and prospective students as their strategies for 2020/21 take shape.  

Despite the current uncertainties, we are committed to providing the same world-class experience for which UK higher education is known in the new academic year. We will continue to support students to progress and achieve their learning outcomes, to overcome barriers so they succeed and flourish, to offer a fulfilling and varied learning experience, and to give them skills and hope for the future.